UFC 269 will help close out the year for the fight world, as well as provide some serious clarity atop the lightweight division.
The first pay-per-view of the year was UFC 257 in January, headlined by Dustin Poirier defeating Conor McGregor in a battle of top lightweight contenders. They met again in July at UFC 264, a bout also won by Poirier. Now Poirier has the chance to finish the year as champion, and he gets that chance this Saturday against reigning lightweight champ Charles Oliveira.
In addition to the lightweight title bout, UFC 269 is a card filled with depth and excitement. The dominant Amanda Nunes also returns to defend her bantamweight title against heavy underdog Julianna Peña. Even if Peña has no path to victory, it is still a joy to watch Nunes apply her craft in the cage. Three other bouts–Sean O’Malley-Raulian Paiva, Cody Garbrandt-Kai Kara-France, and Geoff Neal-Santiago Ponzinibbio–fill the main card, and there are also a couple of standout fights on the prelims. Tai Tuivasa looks to beat a ranked heavyweight when he meets Augusto Sakai, and the great Dominick Cruz, who is the most accomplished bantamweight in UFC history, also steps back into the cage in pursuit of one last title run when he faces off against Pedro Munhoz.
The anticipation should build all night for the two title fights. While Nunes is expected to steamroll Peña, it is far more of a stalemate when picking the winner of Oliveira-Poirier.
Entering UFC 269, here are some of the most pressing questions:
Can Dustin Poirier finally win the lightweight title?
A former interim champion, Dustin Poirier is staring at his chance to finally win the UFC lightweight championship.
The script seems easy to write. Poirier (28-6, 1 NC) wins the belt, then defends against Justin Gaethje before another highly anticipated bout against Conor McGregor. But that plan is riddled with inconsistencies. Gaethje is no guarantee for the next title shot, particularly if Oliveira gets an immediate rematch or if Islam Makhachev bulldozes his way through Beneil Dariush in February. And though McGregor is still a bona fide draw, he should be nowhere near the title picture, especially considering he lost his last two fights, both against Poirier.
There is also a different theory to contemplate as UFC 269 approaches, and that is the possibility that Oliveira is simply the best lightweight in the entire division. Despite his status as underdog in this title fight, Oliveira (31-8, 1 NC) has been untouchable over the past three years. He has rattled off nine wins in a row during that stretch, including showing incredible power in his fights when he defeated Michael Chandler last spring by TKO, a feat that Justin Gaethje could not accomplish in his recent battle against Chandler.
Poirier has won three in a row after losing to Khabib Nurmagomedov, as well as seven of his past eight. His last two fights were against McGregor, but he has an entirely new obstacle in front of him in Oliveira.
It took Oliveira a long time to become who he thought he was going to be in the cage, but he is finally there. He has fought top opponents and proved himself. This is a bout that can go either way, but I am leaning toward the champion retaining his crown.
Is there any path to victory for Julianna Peña against Amanda Nunes?
There is no path for Julianna Peña to win against Amanda Nunes. I don’t see any way she gets it done.
Winner of her last dozen fights, Nunes (21-4) currently has no peer in the sport. Despite all her talent, Peña (10-4) simply does not present a real threat to Nunes.
As for who is next for Nunes, it is a bit of a crapshoot. Aspen Ladd has promise, but Nunes has practically run through the entire division.
What else stands out on the 269 card?
Sean O’Malley looks to continue his rise in the bantamweight division, but it will be no easy task against Raulian Paiva.
Paiva (21-3) won three in a row, though this fight is designed to be another showcase for O’Malley (14-1).
Outside of the main event, the two prime pieces of real estate for fighters are the opening fight of the main card and the last fight of the prelims, so it is a feather in the cap for O’Malley to be back in this position. And while Paiva may pose some problems, O’Malley has three rounds to continue his build by putting on a show and providing some momentum to start the show.
Another compelling bout is former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt making the move to flyweight, where he will look to make noise in the division against sixth-ranked Kai Kara-France. Garbrandt (12-4) had dipped to seventh in the bantamweight rankings after his most recent loss to Rob Font, but now looks to make noise as a flyweight. And after losing four of his past five, he desperately needs this victory. Kara-France (22-9, 1 NC) has split his past four fights, and a win will keep him locked in the sixth spot in the flyweight rankings.
Garbrandt has been a UFC champion before and showed he has overwhelming raw talent, yet he has also proven to be linear in his performances. Kara-France is an exceptionally talented boxer, which should open the door for Garbrandt to wrestle and show his value at 125. Garbrandt should win, though his chin hasn’t been holding as well as it once did–and that could be extremely problematic against an opponent as heavy-handed as Kara-France.
The main card also features a meeting of two ranked opponents from the welterweight division, as No. 12 Geoff Neal meets 14th-ranked Santiago Ponzinibbio.
Ponzinibbio (28-4) has ripped off eight of his past nine, while Neal (13-4) is coming off back-to-back losses. Ponzinibbio is a big guy who possesses incredibly heavy hands, and his striking should be the difference.
Why is Dominick Cruz fighting on the prelims?
A healthy Dominick Cruz is making one more run for the bantamweight title. A former two-time champ, the ninth-ranked Cruz has a chance to move up in the rankings at UFC 269, meeting eighth-ranked Pedro Munhoz.
This is the lowest Cruz has ever fought on a UFC card, and he needs a win to change that trajectory. But this one won’t be easy. Munhoz (19-6, 1 NC) has dropped three of his past four, yet he faced top-tier opponents, including Aljamain Sterling and Jose Aldo. He went the distance in both of those fights, and it is highly unlikely that Cruz (23-3) will be able to finish him.
Munhoz is one of the most skilled fighters, though it hasn’t always led to wins. This will be a great challenge for Cruz, and it is a fight he must win in order to keep rising up the card.